Ask a handful of parents what they seek most when it comes to medical advice for their children, and they’ll likely tell you the same thing: home remedies for childhood stomach pain. After all, abdominal pain is one of the most common complaints in children. In many cases, if you are able to effectively identify the cause of their symptoms, there are many effective ways to treat your child’s stomach pain at home.
FWIW, when doctors talk about stomach pain in children (and in general), they’re usually referring to the entire abdomen — that’s everything from the pelvis and its organs to the intestines. As a result, identifying symptoms of childhood stomach pain can sometimes be difficult, especially in babies and young children. “Little children who aren’t yet verbal about pain may show it by holding their stomach or bending forward,” says Dr. Katie Lockwood, MD, attending physician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Primary Care, Flourtown. Showing them that something hurts might also look like behavior changes — eating less or being less active, she says.
If something is wrong and you suspect that the tummy is the cause? Here are some of the top causes of stomach pain in children, home remedies, and most importantly, when to call your pediatrician.
Common causes of abdominal pain in children
First things first: “Stomach pain is one of those things that has a mile-long list of possible causes,” says Dr. Michael D. Patrick, Jr., MD, emergency medical technician at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and host of the hospital’s PediaCast podcast.
However, those who work in pediatrics can point to common causes of stomach pain in children. Below are many of them:
“The most common thing we see is often constipation,” says Lockwood.
Constipation simply means “too much stool in the bowel that doesn’t move well,” explains Patrick. Your child might have infrequent, hard stools or loose or watery stools, like diarrhea, he says. Constipation can be due to anything from diet and hydration to lifestyle (some kids hold poop when they’re potty trained) or more serious GI issues. “Many children with constipation point to their belly button as the area of pain,” says Colleen Kraft, MD, MBA, attending physician at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
2. bloating or indigestion
Indigestion (also known as dyspepsia or indigestion) is essentially an upper abdominal discomfort that your child may experience as burning, bloating, gas, nausea, or bloating. This type of pain can be more non-specific, and a child may point to their belly button as a point of pain, especially if it’s non-verbal, Lockwood says. Stomach pain associated with indigestion or post-meal nausea can often be related to diet, says Kraft. It can be caused by something as simple as breathing in too much air when drinking out of a straw or junk food, spicy food, excess citrus fruits, caffeine, and an overall unhealthy diet.
3. Gastrointestinal (GI) viruses
GI viruses (think norovirus) are common during the winter and spring. “They’re more acute because they’re shorter — 24 to 48 hours of stomach pain — and usually a little easier to spot because they’re accompanied by a sudden onset of vomiting and diarrhea that gets better relatively quickly,” Lockwood explains.
If your child has food allergies, particularly a milk allergy or lactose intolerance, they may experience abdominal pain and symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, or cramps, Kraft says. These symptoms would appear shortly after eating. If your child ever develops signs or symptoms of anaphylaxis (difficulty breathing, facial flushing, shock), call emergency services immediately.
5. The flu
“A lot of parents don’t realize that the flu often causes more GI symptoms in children than in adults,” says Lockwood. For example, if your child has the flu, they may have symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea, she notes. “A mantra we use in pediatrics is, ‘Children are not small adults.’ Diseases often look different in pediatrics than in adults because children’s immune systems are still developing.”
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Notice your kid’s tummy bothers every day before school, but is it ok on weekends? That’s a sign that stress might be contributing to the pain, says Kraft. The stomach and brain are connected by signaling pathways called the gut-brain axis; sometimes psychological problems have stomach related symptoms and vice versa.
Any severe pain in the lower right side of the abdomen can be a sign of appendicitis (if the appendix is inflamed or infected) and requires immediate medical attention, Patrick says.
8th. Problems in other areas and organs of the abdomen
The kidneys are located at the back of the abdomen, and the pelvis and its organs are in close proximity to the stomach, meaning pelvic problems (think urinary tract infections (UTIs), especially in young girls) can often result in stomach-like pain. “Any abdominal pain that goes backwards or is accompanied by urinary tract symptoms, we think of it as a UTI or kidney stones,” says Lockwood.
Additionally, inflammation of the pancreas, gallbladder problems, or anything in your abdomen could potentially be behind stomach pain, Lockwood says.
9. Rare but serious problems
These rare but serious problems can all cause stomach pain in children and require medical attention.
- invagination This is when the intestines “fold in on themselves,” which causes severe abdominal pain in babies, toddlers, or young children, Patrick says.
- Ovarian or testicular torsion. These problems occur when the ovaries twist on supporting tissues or a testicle twists and twists the umbilical cord that brings blood to the scrotum. Both can cause abdominal pain and occur in young children (not just teens and adults), Patrick says.
8 home remedies to treat stomach pain in children
Good news: In many cases of stomach pain in children, home remedies can make children feel much better. What you do depends on the problem at hand, but these are some tried-and-true workarounds that the documentation relies on:
1. A food diary
When it comes to stomach pain in children, one of the first things pediatricians look at is a child’s diet. “I advise my parents to keep a food journal to see what their children are eating and when they are experiencing pain,” says Kraft.
Whole grains, fruits, and vegetables can help a child with constipation by bulking up the stool and making it easier to pass stools, Lockwood says. For children over a year old, “prune juice is another strategy to help with constipation,” adds Patrick. It’s packed with fiber and sorbitol, which helps soften stools.
3. Mild, nutritious food
For issues like heartburn, choosing milder and more nutritious foods (skipping out spicy and processed foods) can help, says Lockwood.
4. The BRAT Diet
For more acute stomach pains like GI virus, Lockwood recommends trying the BRAT diet: bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast for easy nutrition.
“There is evidence of probiotics for acute stomach upset,” says Lockwood. “If you’re on antibiotics for something or have an upset stomach, taking a probiotic can help.” Foods like Greek yogurt, sauerkraut, pickles, or kefir are natural sources of probiotics.
It’s important to keep your child hydrated – by making sure they wet nappies regularly or, for older children, that their urine is lighter in color and able to retain liquids – is important, especially if a child is vomiting or has diarrhea, says Lockwood.
Staying hydrated is also an important part of fighting off constipation, she says. Sipping warm water or some decaffeinated tea can also help relieve constipation, adds strength.
7. self massage
Gentle massage can help relieve pain and get things moving when you’re constipated, says Kraft.
Sometimes, placing a warm compress or washcloth over your child’s tummy can help relieve pain, Kraft says. Heat promotes blood flow and circulation and helps with pain relief.
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When to seek medical attention for your child’s stomach pain
If your child is under 1
“Any time a baby is under 12 months old and you think his tummy hurts, it should be seen; They can’t tell you if their stomach hurts or not,” explains Patrick. Infants are also at increased risk of dehydration, Lockwood adds.
If the pain is bothersome, lasts for several days, or escalates
If your child says their stomach hurts but is playful, running around, eating normally, and generally behaving themselves, that’s less of a concern than being curled up on their bed in pain.
“If the pain has lasted for several days and your child is really bothered about being their normal self, you should see a doctor because there are just so many things that could be at play,” says Patrick.
If your child feels a burning sensation when urinating
This could be a sign of an infection like a UTI and definitely a reason to see your doctor, Lockwood says.
If vomiting and diarrhea lasts for more than two days OR your child is unable to hold down liquids
Dehydration is a serious problem and something that may require medical intervention, says Lockwood. If vomiting and diarrhea persist, there are medications you and your doctor can consider for your child.
When abdominal pain is accompanied by fever
This could indicate an infection somewhere in the body, Lockwood says.
When your child is losing weight
Chronic abdominal problems like Crohn’s disease or inflammatory bowel disease can be linked to weight loss, Lockwood says.
For pain in the lower right abdomen
This could be a sign of appendicitis, which requires immediate medical attention, says Kraft.
When home remedies don’t help
If you’ve changed your child’s diet, given them rest, or tried warm compresses without relief, it’s a sign that something else might be at play, and you should let your doctor weigh it, Kraft says.
All in all, it’s important to remember that stomach pain in children is very common and a major reason children end up in the pediatrician’s office. Home remedies often help children with stomach pains, but sometimes things can be more serious. Trust your parenting instincts and always bring your child to you when you are worried. Otherwise, rest assured that in many cases, simple lifestyle changes can help keep your child feeling their best.
Katie Lockwood, MD, MEd, attending physician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Primary Care, Flourtown.
Michael D. Patrick, Jr., MD, emergency room physician at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and host of the hospital’s podcast PediaCast.
Colleen Kraft, MD, MBA, attending physician at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
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